The iconic Penticton sign on Munson Mountain will be getting freshened up next week, thanks to local businesses. Photo courtesy of Shaun Kennedy/Moments Under Frame

Iconic Penticton sign getting a makeover

Next week’s new paint job will be the sign’s first in around half a decade

One of Penticton’s greatest landmarks, both in size and recognition, is in need of a bit of revitalization.

The 54-by-300-foot sign that calls the city’s name out from the mountaintops, an 80-year-old fixture in Penticton’s skyline, will be getting that work done next week, as a group of realtors head to Munson Mountain to give it a new paint job.

“Living here, sometimes you just don’t make the time to get out and remind yourself why we live here, in such a beautiful city,” said Coldwell Banker Okanagan Realty managing broker Brooks Lancaster, whose real estate firm is heading up to Munson Mountain next Wednesday for the project.

The group will be heading up the hill at around 7 a.m. and expects to begin painting the sign closer to 8 a.m., with employees taking one- or two-hour shifts, which Lancaster described as a nice break from working in the office.

“We’re going to have a fun day up there. We’ll have the tent up there, we’ll have some sandwiches and some water,” he said. “It’s just nice to get out of the office and do something that’s important to all of us that live here.”

He expects the group to take around five hours to complete the paint job, which he says is likely the first in about half a dozen years.

“Over the years, a lot of volunteer groups have been maintaining the Penticton sign, since the ‘40s,” Lancaster said.

Among the caretakers of the past, Lancaster lists the Boy Scouts, the former board of trade and other volunteers.

Though the sign has been up for 80 years, now a B.C. heritage site, Lancaster says the spot had significance to Penticton for a full 10 years prior, including a beacon fire lit on Canada Day, 1927.

“This is kind of why we’re doing it at this time of year,” Lancaster said. “Ninety years ago on Canada Day, they had a beacon fire on Munson Mountain … and that was the first recorded evidence of the social significance as a local celebration.”

Local historian Randy Manuel says the sign was created all those decades ago with the board of trade at the helm of the project, while others worked to maintain it later on.

But it was the Associated Canadian Traveler’s club who hauled up a total of 44,000 pounds — nearly 20 metric tonnes — of silica rock over three intervals while maintaining the area, including weeding the space.

“That would have been one heck of a job to haul those bags of silica down the slope and put them into place,” Manuel said.

To put that into more tangible terms, 44,000 pounds would require 880 individual loads, if each person carried 50 pounds at a time.

For decades, the sign was in need of regular maintenance, as those rocks, placed on the ground, were often outgrown by the weeds underneath. That became the cause for a local radio station in the 1980s and 1990s, according to Manuel.

“A one point, Ralph Robinson from CIGV radio started a campaign to be able to have annual cleanups and put cement in place, instead of stone,” Manuel said.

That was finalized in the late 1990s, according to Lancaster, who says the concrete was poured over the silica rocks to keep weeds from growing over it.

“They just made it that much more permanent in 1998. It was basically just a pebble sign (before),” he said. “In 1998, the concrete was poured, and the silica rock that was there is embedded in it, and that’s what we have there, today.”

The sign’s creation in the late 1930s was the product of an inability of the city and developers to commercialize the park space, which Manuel says might ring a bell with those paying attention to local issues more recently.

“Guess what. Fast forward 80 years, and it’s still going on, right?” he said.

Commercialization of the space around the sign came up more recently, too, with an outdoor theatre proposed for a natural bowl behind the hill, according to Manuel.

“But that never came to fruition. I think probably what happened was more interesting things came on stream, and then the 2008 financial crash didn’t make it financially viable,” he said. “It would have been a combination of city and private enterprise.”

Those who wish to help out with the upcoming efforts to revitalize the sign are more than welcome to, Lancaster said.

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